Out with the old!
Spring is indeed a busy season for cleaning, say pro organizers

By Dave Fidlin - Special to The Freeman

March 14, 2014

Professional organizer Patty VanWilligen organizes rubber stamps in
a plastic bin Thursday afternoon.

Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

WAUKESHA - As a long, stubborn winter begins giving way to spring, residents throughout Waukesha County are turning their attention toward the time-honored tradition of spring cleaning.

While many people will turn the page of a new season and take it upon themselves to clean out the garage, toss out large volumes of unwanted mail and store winter items in the rafters, some will enlist a professional to bring a sense of order back into a home.

In the past decade, professional organizers have grown in popularity in the Midwest. Most companies are small operations, run by entrepreneurs, and offer a range of services - from solutions aimed at maximizing space to a simple top-down analysis of what should stay and what should be tossed.

There is even a national trade organization - Mount Laurel, N.J.-based National Association of Professional Organizers - that offers a database of member companies within specific geographic areas.

Spring is traditionally the busiest time for professional organizers, according to several experts in the Waukesha area. With a desire to open a home back up after a long period of hibernation, people seemingly have an innate desire to part with unwanted items.

“People tend to have that feeling of cabin fever around this time of year, and they start to think of the things that are in their way,” said Patty VanWilligen, who operates Pewaukee-based All Things Organized. “Sometimes it helps to have someone there to motivate and reassess.”

Professional organizer Patty VanWillingen types a label on a label maker she uses to help keep clients organized after they have done their cleaning.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

While extreme hoarding-related incidents have grabbed headlines and become fodder for reality TV shows, local professional organizers say they often assist people who lead active, busy lives and fall behind on daily household chores.

Mary Pat Rick, who runs Little Miss Organization in New Berlin, said part of her services include a psychological element. Case in point: Rick said she encourages people to think about what they do with their mail after they grab it from the box each day.

“There are studies out there that say people spend, on average, 55 minutes each day trying to find things,” Rick said. “When I meet with people, the room we usually start with is the one that comes up most often in conversations. Sometimes it’s a point of contention.”


‘This is a process’

In some instances, organizers assist solely with the planning and leave the heavy lifting up to the people residing in the home. But many of the professionals also are willing to undertake the task themselves.

“I like to be flexible with people and their schedules,” said VanWilligen, who will celebrate her 10th year in business this June. “This is like being a personal trainer. We don’t do it all right away. This is a process.”

Rick, who has been in business three years, said she frequently encourages people to give unwanted items to charities.

“There are so many organizations out there that help people in need,” Rick said. “We encourage people to find a cause they believe in and give their unwanted items.”

With busy schedules a part of the traditional American lifestyle, professional organizers will likely be part of the service-oriented landscape into the foreseeable future.

“Sometimes it’s a time management issue,” Rick said of disarray within a home. “We’ll ask hard questions of people, but it’s because we want them to make good decisions.”

Brush & large item pickup

Many municipalities across Waukesha County offer services to assist with spring clean up, including pickups for brush and large items.

In the city of Waukesha, call the Department of Public Works office at 524-3600 for more information. Brush pickup is scheduled to begin in early May, and large items can be hauled away on regular trash pickup dates with advance notice.
-Special to The Freeman